Social consequences and Bible interpretation

Interpretation of Ancient Texts and Social Implications

  1. Basic Issues

Religion makes a major contribution to the social fabric of society. Religion has potential to influence society’s approach to science, government, gender, economics, violence, and many other social issues. Most major religions have sacred texts which reinforce and perpetuate the belief systems and behaviors of their followers. Sacred texts are typically ancient texts which pose some unique obstacles in interpretation. The manifestation of religious extremism is one of those issues that deeply affects our world. Because religion contributes so heavily to society, extra prudence in interpretation is critical. Some approaches to Biblical interpretation have proven insufficient to provide an understanding appreciative of the ancient context and provide relevant meaning for today. A proper interpretive literary theory along with basic literary skills will help us to view this, and other ancient texts, in a healthy productive way.

In this study I will focus on the Bible rather than the texts of other religions and allow each religion to focus on interpreting its own texts. I will address the history of interpretive approaches leading up to current trends and then propose an interpretive literary theory. We will then examine a sample of texts to apply this theory.

  1. Approach

With religious texts, including the Bible, the issue of authorship is critical; what is implied by the concept of divine inspiration? The root of interpretive problems begins with assumptions that we make about what a divinely authored text should be.

+ Some people assume that if the Bible is a text inspired by the creator of the universe then it should contain accurate scientific information.

+ Some assume that an all knowing God will provide accurate history and therefore the Bible should be a history book.

+ Because the Bible gives social codes for Israel the nation, some assume that the Bible gives a plan of government for all societies.

+ Some assume that the Bible came to people in such a way that it is not affected by cultural influences.

Therefore, the assumptions we begin with affect our approach, and approach the interpreter begins with will determine all perceptions as progress is made through any text, and so it is this issue of approach that we should address first.

2b. Historical Survey of Approaches

In the 4th century the scholar Augustine set the tone for much of western Christianity’s scholarship. He had a background in philosophy and like most of the Hellenized Roman world was influenced by Plato. We can observe from a sample of his writing the philosophical logic he employed, “But if that is true, how could there be days before there was time, if time began with the course of the lights, which Scripture says were made on the fourth day?” (Augustine and Teske, 149). We see in his use of western analytics that all sense of mystery and myth are gone.

The 16th century birth of the Age of Reason with its focus on inductive logic, by Francis Bacon, and deductive logic, by Rene’ Descartes, (Perry 287) led the way to the enlightenment era wherein reason reigned. The Age of Reason had a profound influence upon religion. Peet Van Dyk notes a correlation between this era of reason and a fundamentalist approach to Bible interpretation, “The earlier roots of modernism can be found in the humanistic rationalism of the sixteenth-century Renaissance, which was a kind of intellectual orthodoxy. It is therefore not surprising that it emerged simultaneously with its religious counterpart, Christian orthodoxy – with its strong fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible” (166). If the culture we are immersed in is one of scientific logic then it is probable that we will project that paradigm upon our interpretive approach to the Bible and place expectations upon the text for which it was not designed.

The postmodern era of literary criticism has also influenced Bible interpretation. This approach is known for minimizing the author’s intended meaning and emphasizing the receptor’s impressions. An example of postmodern eco-critical theory focuses upon the serpent in garden of Genesis, “It constructs and confuses the boundaries between male and female, God and nature, and humanity and nature. It can regenerate without sex. It is a wild animal with divine knowledge who takes part in the creation of human society. Thus, the serpent provides interpretive resources for a vision of ecological justice.” (Walker-Jones). This approach does not seriously consider the cultural setting, or message the authors intended. Van Dyk says of the postmodern approach, “It is a rejection of any hierarchy, narrative closure or any need to stress the authority of an author” (p. 167). Today’s critical theories are certainly valuable in their proper context, but they are not best suited to the art of interpretation; “to give the meaning of” or “to understand in a particular way” (Steinmetz).

  1. Hypothesis: The Author Centered Approach

Let us consider principles for an interpretive theory which both understand the ancient text and provide meaning for modernity. I propose an author centered approach in which seeking the author’s intended meaning and message is essential. In “Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible” Carolyn Sharp states, “The vexed matter of authorial intention lies at the heart of current debates about reading. Many interpreters consider the “author” to be long dead and rightly unmourned. But for many others— myself among them— a nuanced notion of author remains essential, even as our view of textual meaning becomes enlivened by an increasingly sophisticated understanding of contextual factors that shape interpretation.” (p. 2). This principle is at odds with much modern literary criticism, but it is essential for interpretation and actually a very basic principle we each use daily. For example if two notes are left for me by my spouse it is important that I distinguish between the one intended as a shopping list and the one intended as a love letter. And it is usually very simple to discern which one is a list and which one is for romance. If I am reading a legal contract it is essential that I understand it correctly and not just “my impression” of what it means. Author intention is essential!

A- Assumptions: The author centered approach mandates that we be willing to relinquish assumptions based upon our cultural projections. For those that claim that the Bible should be a science or history textbook they need to ask themselves if the author’s intention is primary or their own needs. The book “Archaeology and Bible Interpretation” states, “Its many authors wrote to meet the needs of their own times rather than our own. The historians among them wrote history as they saw it, and they presented the past of Israel in terms designed to meet their own political or religious agenda, not our agenda. Divine inspiration may have led them to write better than they knew, but nevertheless they were writing as human beings for their own human situation,” (Bartlett p. 1). When Genesis speaks, it speaks of the world known to those writers, “it is inappropriate to impose our modern ontology onto the mental constructs of the ancient world” (Walton p. 151). If the author of Genesis had intended to write a book on the science of creation, he or she could have done that, but evidently that was not the intention of the author. Walton confirms, “I am constantly amazed at how difficult it is for us moderns to set aside our cultural preconceptions in order to begin to think in new ways” (p. 198). Then Walton considers the social impacts of interpretation,

“These conclusions have significant ramifications for the public discussions and controversies of our time, including those concerning the age of the earth, the relationship between Genesis and science, the interpretation of the biblical text             in relation to evolution and Intelligent Design, and the shape of public science education” (p. 199).

B- Not Hyper Rational: I propose that it is reasonable to accept the truth that we humans have limited knowledge, which realization then leads us to embrace a sense of mystery. Van Dyk makes a similar proposal with his use of the term “fuzzy logic” which he adapted from scientists who were encountering abstractions. He explains, “fuzzy logic does not really advocate illogical, irrational, or inexact thought, but that it is a serious effort towards a more accurate description of reality” (166). We modern rational humans may believe ourselves capable of understanding everything. But we do not understand, nor do we need to understand everything. I do not mean to disregard rational thinking; rational reasoning is a gift of creation. The purpose I am writing this paper is for the sake of reason. Hyper-rational is the insistence on knowing and proving everything; which is unreasonable. Hyper-rational thinking is to force all texts into the scrutiny of modern science. Faith itself is a mixture of reason and dismissal of reason. Reason leads us up to the door, but faith opens the door.  With this approach we interpret texts with a sense of mystery appropriate to their genre.

C- Culture: Cultural context is part of an author centered approach. If we care for the author’s intended message we will surely consider issues of cultural setting; values, customs and literary styles. The text may have universal meaning but to truly capture that meaning the first consideration is what it meant to the original audience. For example consider the laws given to Israel. If we fail to accept that those were given to a special people for a specified time and hastily attempt to apply them to modern governments we create serious problems. The text still has great significance to modern man but first we need to understand what it meant to the original audience. Those that do not consider cultural context will have difficulty reconciling the changes in society and view all social issues as ones of absolute values.

D- Artistic: I propose an artistic approach to the text the same way we would approach any other text. Robert Alter, in an essay reviewing “The Literary Guide to the Bible” points out that our history of rigorously analyzing the Bible has “had the effect of setting up a sharp divide between the Bible and literature” (Alter 82). If the interpreter begins with an appreciation of the artistic elements of a piece the benefits will surely follow. In a review of “The Artistic Dimension: Literary Explorations of the Hebrew Bible” Johnson says, “an interpreter’s first port of call ought to be the literary analysis of a text” (Johnson 315). An artistic approach can appreciate genre and employ basic skills to discern that which is intentionally historical and that which is not. An artistic approach appreciates the use of poetic imagery or metaphor and does not seek to distort those into hard facts.

  1. The Text:

The modern Protestant Bible is a collection of 66 writings, written over a period of approximately 1,000 years, written by many authors, woven together with unifying themes that makes it cohesive. There are several genres used; historical narratives, fictional narratives, songs, poetry, proverbs, letters, and apocalyptic literature. Chapter and verse which hinders natural reading was added a few centuries ago. Brevity will only allow a sampling of key Bible passages here. The opening lines of the Bible are:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The earth was without form and void,

and darkness was over the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

And God saw that the light was good”                                     (English Standard Version, Genesis 1:1-3).

This pattern of creation continues for six days and each time God approves the creation as good. On the sixth day God creates animals including humans, but separates out the humans as unique,

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. / And let them have dominion…’

So God created man in his own image, / in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26, 27).

 

As we approach this text let’s take a clue from the “Star Wars” opening line, “A long time ago in a galaxy far away” (Lucas). This opens up our imagination to the possibility that anything could happen. Reading the opening lines of the Bible is similar, if read with a healthy imagination. There is a poetic structure which indicates that the genre is not science or history. There are six days of creation and a seventh day of rest, which is the focal point.

 

Day 1: verb: separate

Elements: dark/ light, evening/morning

Condition: void

“It was good”

Day 4: verb; fill, govern

Elements: stars, moon, sun

Condition; space of day 1 filled

“It was good”

Day 2: verb: separate

Elements: water below/water above

Condition: empty expanse

“It was good”

Day 5: verbs; multiply and fill

Elements: birds and fish

Condition: water and expanse of day 2 filled

“It was good”

Day 3: verb; gathering into separate areas

Elements; sea/dry land;

Condition: empty landscape; plants begin

“It was good”

Day 6: verbs: be fruitful, multiply, dominion

Elements: animals, including humans

Condition: earth full

“It was very good”

Humans blessed with special role

7th Day; God rests

(implication that temple for Creator and creatures is complete and all is well)

(McClenahan)

My understanding of the Bible and its cultural context is that the Bible reflects the culture it was written in and yet stands out as unique. The significance of the Genesis creation account is seen in contrast to surrounding cultures. In Egypt and Mesopotamia the physical elements; rivers, moon, and stars, were worshiped, but Genesis presents a creator being who gives these items. The message to the Hebrews would be to worship the creator, not the gifts. Another example of cultural context and significant meaning is the role given to all humans as governors, “Unlike its Babylonian counterpart, the Hebrew Creation account of Genesis 1 indicates that God gave the power of earthly rule to adam – not to the king or emperor, but simply to “mankind” (Pagels).Genesis endows all humanity with nobility.

Genesis gives us foundational understanding for life. It helps us understand our place before our Creator and in the created order. Genesis proclaims that the creation is good and that life is good. Among many world religions this is totally unique. Many world religions blame the physical elements as being corrupt; that the spiritual world is pure but the physical world is negative. Many world religions blame emotions and women as the weakness that corrupts humanity. But Genesis proclaims sex, emotions, male/female relations as good! Life is good and all the things we enjoy; music, art, science, baseball, it is all good and to be enjoyed. It proclaims that humans were created as incredibly fantastic beings with incredible potential! This is a great place to start the Bible. It is our foundation for understanding the rest of the Bible. People who focus on proving it as science or history often overlook these foundational aspects.

A social issue that is often linked to these passages is gender equality. It is significant to note that Genesis presents both male and female as created equal in the image of God. Even though the culture gave males the social responsibility of leadership, it is not possible to use this passage to make females a lesser being. A passage often misunderstood is Genesis 3:16, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” God is speaking to the man and woman after they chose disobedience in the Garden of Eden. This statement is not prescriptive of how things were intended to be, but a descriptive statement on how horrible things will be because humanity does not live in harmony with the created order. The universal questions of the humanities have been, “Why is there strife, suffering, and pain in this world? Why are men and women in contention?” Genesis is speaking to these philosophical questions by showing that humanity suffers because of disharmony with the Creator. Because of careless interpretation, this passage has often been used to justify oppression of women.

With careful interpretation we can see that these texts are not appeals to the scientific mind, but are appeals to the heart. From them we understand the role of humanity within creation and humanity’s relationship to the Creator. Today’s scientists and philosophers are apparently coming to reconciliation, “While science tells us what is and what can be, it cannot tells us what should be. Questions about what should be are in the realm of religion, ethics, policy, and philosophy” (Berg, Hager, & Hassenzahl, 18). Extremism or fanaticism comes in many forms and so the proper interpretation of religious texts is a mandatory safeguard against perpetuating unhealthy thinking. There truly is a way to interpret the Bible using an author centered approach and basic literary tools that will help us appreciate its deep literary texture, rooted in its original culture, and find relevant significance for us today.

 

 

 

Works cited

Alter, Robert. “Frank Kermode’s Literary Bible.” Critical Quarterly 54.1 (2012): 81-87. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Augustine, Teske R. J.. On Genesis. Baltimore, US: Catholic University of America Press,  1990. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 6 April 2016.

Bartlett, John R., ed. Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation. London, US: Routledge,    2002. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 6 April 2016.

Berg, L. R., Hager, M. C., & Hassenzahl, D. M. (2011). Visualizing environmental science.           Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Johnson, Benjamin J. M. “The Artistic Dimension: Literary Explorations Of The Hebrew    Bible.”            Reviews In Religion & Theology 21.3 (2014): 314-316. Academic Search   Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

McClenahan: acknowledgment of Tom McClenahan instructor of Old Testament at Salt Lake Theological Seminary, who taught me these principles.

Pagels, Elaine. “The Politics of Paradise: Augustine’s Exegesis of Genesis 1-3 Versus That of John Chrysostom”. The Harvard Theological Review 78.1/2 (1985): 67–99. Web…

Sharp, Carolyn J.. Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible. Bloomington, IN, USA: Indiana           University Press, 2008. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 19 April 2016.

Star Wars. Dir. George Lucas. Lucasfulm, 1977. Film.

Steinmetz, Sol, and Carol G. Braham. Random House Webster’s Dictionary. New York: Ballantine,       1993. Print.

The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. Print.

Van Dyk, Peet J. “A Fuzzy Interpretation of the Bible: Going Beyond Modernism and        Postmodernism.” Religion and Theology 9.3-4 (2002): 163-82. Web.

Walker-Jones, Arthur. “Eden For Cyborgs: Ecocriticism And Genesis 2–3.” Biblical Interpretation  16.3   (2008): 263-293. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

Walton, John H.. Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology. Winona Lake, IN, USA: Eisenbrauns, 2010. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 31 March 2016.

 


Sabbath-ing; sabbath as a verb

How many days do slaves get off work for weekly rest? Maybe in American slavery a “kind” slave owner would give a break, but through the history of slavery- and it has a very long history- slaves did not get the privilege of weekly time off. When Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt they received commands from God for their new society in the promised land. Consider how profoundly revolutionary this was, and that it was not given to an exclusive class of citizens; it was for the entire community; top to bottom including migrant workers and even animals! “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” this actually quite incredible. As I study world history and ancient cultures I have not read of any other culture having a similar law. It is apparently unique to the Hebrews and we in western culture have benefited from it greatly. Today most societies embrace this but, as far as I currently know, it is really a Hebrew heritage. Many of us who are self-employed would work 24/7 if our bodies would just go on without sleep. Farmers must understand better than anyone that there is really no end to the work to be done. I truly have come to appreciate the value of this ancient tradition.

I see the Sabbath today as being fulfilled in the Spirit. The early Christians were a mix of Jews, Greeks, Romans and many other ethnicities and did not have the liberty to request Saturdays off of work. It is noted that Christians began meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday. Maybe the message they were sending to the Jews who were still keeping Saturday Sabbath was, “We will honor God’s law but we will do it as lead by His Spirit.” If we claim to be fulfilling the legal Sabbath by going to church on Sunday, then we do not understand the depth of the original command. In Israel there were no church meetings on Saturday-Sabbath. It was truly to be a day of resting, probably a day of recreational rest. So sometimes I really get stressed on Sundays with pressures to be at meetings. Sometimes I just really, really want to rest. I love gathering with believers, and will always cherish church. But if I take God seriously and listen to what he says about mankind’s need for rest, then I will allow myself to seek him first and find significant rest, at least one day a week.


Matthew, introduction

Matthew; introduction

Old Testament themes as setting for Matthew

The Old Testament speaks beautifully through the use of foreshadows, which prepare a setting for the story of Jesus. For me, the Old Testament setting for this story is important for a couple of reasons: 1st, it lets me know that Jesus is not an independent character who just arrives on the scene out of the mist like a mythical lone plains drifter. 2nd, it helps me look at Mathew’s writing carefully, observing the themes of the book. And observing the themes helps me properly interpret the intended meaning.

Who is Jesus?

Immanuael    Matthew 1:23; Jesus is identified as “Immanuel, God with us” reflecting on words from the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel” (7:14). The theme of being reunited with God really starts back in Genesis when Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden after their sin. This is called the Biblical drama. Compared to a literary drama it is similar to two lovers meeting, and just before their marriage they get separated by some horrible tragedy, the rest of the film is their search for each other until they are finally reunited. At this point in the drama, Jesus the hero makes his appearance.

King    Matthew 2:6 Jesus is identified as ruler over Israel, a shepherd king, “a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” King David was Israel’s classic model king and God had said of David, “He is a man after my own heart.” However, David had done like other rulers we know of; he abused his power. He slept with another man’s wife and then in a cover up plot he had the man murdered. Most kings thought of the people of the kingdom as part of their own property and could take who they wanted. Most rulers think of themselves as above the law. And David gave in to the cultural norm and abused his God given authority. God forgave David but also pronounced him as a man with blood on his hands and shown to be an imperfect king. But David was really foreshadowing  the perfect king to come, one who would not abuse his authority, but use his authority to serve and save. There remained a promise that a descendent of David would be an anointed ruler, “I will raise up for David a righteous branch; and he will reign as king and act wisely, and do justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5). So we will look at Jesus to see if he really fulfills this righteous king role.

The Son         Matthew 3:17; Jesus is identified as Son of God. In the Old Testament there are many stories of families and sons but the most significant for us is Abraham and his son Isaac. Isaac was the result of a miraculous conception son and a son of promise. God said that the whole world would be blessed through Isaac. Then God asked Abraham to go onto a mountain and sacrifice his son. This was to test the heart of Abraham and Isaac was spared death at the last moment. The story of Abraham and the offering of Isaac is in Genesis 22. As foreshadow, Jesus the Son of God, through whom the world was being blessed, was not spared death.

Prophet          Jesus as prophet, teacher and law giver: Moses was the ultimate Old Testament prophet and law giver. His name is often used as representing the entire Old Covenant, “The Law of Moses.” But he also failed at one point and God said that someday he would send another prophet who would speak “all my words”. So as we look at Jesus we see one who speaks and lives all the words of God, who is greater than Moses.

 

The kingdom

The identity of Jesus as king is generally accepted but the type of kingdom is often disputed. When we see phrases such as; kingdom of heaven, coming kingdom, and end of this age we will need to look and listen very closely to understand Jesus’ view of the kingdom and if he is referring to a kingdom now, a future kingdom, or both. Matthew quotes part of a classic passage from Isaiah that we see on many Christmas cards, Isaiah 9:1-7 (ESV)
1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

This passage can clearly be applied to the Christmas Child. We should look closely as we proceed to decide to what extent this applies to the kingdom of Jesus and in what ways.

 

Old Covenant to New Covenant transition

Matthew 3; Jesus baptized by John is reminiscent and symbolic of the passing of Elijah’s mantle to Elisha.

In the books of 1st and 2nd Kings there were two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, and the transition between their eras foreshadows the transition between Old and New Covenants. This transition is connected to Jesus through a prophecy given by Malachi in the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi says, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (4:5). Jesus then applies this prophecy to John the Baptist, and we see the baptism of Jesus by John as reflecting the passing of the mantle of Elijah to Elisha (2 Kings 2/ Matthew3).

Elijah’s ministry has some important characteristics that distinguish it from the ministry of Elisha in similar ways that the Old Covenant is distinguished from the New Covenant. Elijah is introduced in 1 Kings 17 and he is characterized by pronouncing judgment and doing miracles. The passing of the mantle is in 2 Kings chapter 2, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha” (2:15). One significant miracle of Elisha is the healing of Naaman the Assyrian, a foreigner. This is similar to the New Covenant going out beyond Israel to the world (chapter 5). Then a prophet named Gehazi is judged for his greed, which is similar to the judgments upon Akin in Joshua, and Ananias in Acts, both soon after the inauguration of a new kingdom.

You may scoff at many of my thoughts about drawing parallels but I want to remind you that it was Jesus that drew the comparison between Malachi’s prophecy and John the Baptist. In that prophecy it says that Elijah will come, not a metaphorical or spiritualized version of Elijah. But Jesus does draw out a spiritual parallel. This is a great teaching example by Jesus on good Bible interpretation.

 


A natural holistic reading of the Bible

There are several distractions to a natural reading of the Bible that publishers seem to disregard with an apparent disrespect for the Bible. I encourage and even challenge Bible publishers to reconsider their tradition of chopping up the Bible with chapters, verses and headings. I realize that it is a great convenience to have chapter and verse numbers but they could at least be minimized to almost unnoticeable. You may have heard the phrase “verse by verse” Bible study. I want to challenge the virtue of that approach. Here are examples of the destructive effect of chapter breaks in the Bible.

Matthew chapter 4; in Matthew 3 Jesus is baptized and 3:17 God speaks to Jesus saying, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased” which is the key verse in the following section about the temptation of Jesus but there is a chapter break interrupting the flow so that we don’t even see this as one passage. In chapter 4 verse 3 and 6 Satan questions the identity of Jesus by saying, “If you are the Son of God”. It is actually an echo of the temptation of Eve when Satan said, “Did God really say?” And so without the chapter break we would naturally read this as one passage with the theme that God has just said something; that Jesus is the Son of God, and Satan is throwing doubt on what God has just said.

In western thinking and writing we form paragraphs out of complete thoughts. A paragraph will be a complete thought and is concluded before starting a new one. Each new paragraph introduces a new thought which may be related to the preceding paragraph but is also independently new. In eastern and Greek thought there is something beautifully different. The final sentence of a paragraph will also be the introduction to the new paragraph. In fact they probably didn’t even see paragraphs the way we see them. An example is Matthew chapter 6. The last verse of chapter 5; is “Therefore you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. This is a conclusion the previous section on Jesus fulfilling the law and it is also an introduction the next section which is about living out this perfection. My Bible also adds a heading in addition to the chapter break “Giving to the poor and prayer” just further adding to the confusion. You may think this is insignificant but one criticism of the Sermon on the Mount is that some claim it is a compilation of random sayings rather than a cohesive unit and these breaks only add to the breaking of its cohesion.

A proper way to understand Greek writing is through the literary form inclusio. This might be similar to our paragraph but it has definite rules. The inclusio starts and ends with a same or similar term or phrase. An example is in the beatitudes Matthew 5: 3-10 where the term “kingdom of heaven” forms the beginning and end of that inclusio.  The verses following 10 which also use the phrase “blessed are” are an extension with a super explanation mark “!!” but the thought is in transition from what was contained within the inclusio.

This inclusio factor could be critical in the interpretation of Matthew 6:22-7:5 which begins and ends with the topic of the eye. And this section is linked back to the introductory verse “blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. If I am correct here about this section then the chapter 7 break is an intrusion. And also we will correctly view the verses about judging is included with the preceding verses.

Themes make a huge contribution to a holistic reading of scripture. Chapters really break into our ability to perceive the themes that are so vital to the scripture’s message. Consider the whole Bible and its unifying themes; God reaching out to humanity, mankind’s need of redemption and the sovereignty of our Creator over creation. Each part of the Bible contributes to its theme but if we isolate a writing from the whole it really loses its meaning. Many of the interpretation problems that we encounter can be resolved by stepping back, looking at the big picture theme and then seeing that problem passage as part of a greater theme. Consider Romans; this poor book gets dissected more than any I know of. My friends did a verse by verse study of Romans that took over a year and to tell you the truth it was very unpleasant. But if we look at verses 1:16-17 as a powerful introduction then the rest of the book becomes very sensible, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation, to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “the just shall live by faith”. We often hear this quoted as though Paul is saying, “I’m not embarrassed to witness for Jesus”. But that is irrelevant to the rest of the letter. Use some literary common sense. Consider the setting of the gospel message being challenged as inadequate in itself. Consider the Jews saying that the Greeks need law. Consider the great ethnic division between these groups. Paul is saying, “I am fully confident in the gospel within itself to save. The gospel works!” Then as we progress through the book we see chapters 7-8 talking about his confidence that life in the Spirit is better than life by the law, it cannot give us the righteousness of God and life in the Spirit is superior to sinful desires of the flesh. Finally in Romans 14 when Paul could have reasserted that we still need the law as a guide he concludes by saying the law is fulfilled by love. This is all an expansion of 1:16-17 his confidence in the gospel. Please, if you must do the verse by verse style of study at least read the entire book/letter as a whole first.


Dream Church

I DREAM OF A CHURCH

I dream of a church where Jesus is presented in ever increasing purity and truth.

I dream of a church where relationship is the essence of what we are about.

I dream of a church where leadership is not exalted above others.

I dream of a church where practicing the Bible is on equal balance with Bible study.

I dream of a Holy Spirit church.

I dream of a spiritual and social church community.

I dream of a church that shares its finances with the poor.

I dream of a church where meetings are held in homes, restaurants and businesses

What is your dream for the church?

An elaborated study on this is in the page Dream Church >>>>>


Sibling rivalry in Bible

The Father with Enough Love

     Sibling rivalry has quite a history in the Bible; it is as old as the first two children and resulted in the first murder. Cain and Abel were the first children of Adam and Eve. They both presented an offering to the Lord and Abel’s offering was acceptable but Cain’s was not accepted. This made Cain very angry; the account reads, “Cain was very angry and his face down cast. Then the Lord said to Cain ‘Why are you so angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right will you not be accepted?'” God was not rejecting Cain but having relationship with him, telling him that there was something wrong with his actions, and that he should repent and be in proper relationship. Cain’s problem was not with his brother Abel at all. It was not his brother’s fault that his offering was not acceptable to the Lord. Cain needed to work this out with the Lord. Even express his anger to the Lord, at least he may have found an answer. The Lord was trying to talk to him. This is the first hint of a false religious spirit in the Bible; religious activity that is not really what God desires. Cain’s only real option would have been to get his heart right with God and then offer a sacrifice. But instead through rivalry he takes his anger out on his brother, “And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8)

In Genesis chapter 27 there is a story of Esau and Jacob. Esau being the elder, by tradition was supposed to receive a special blessing from his father. Through a scheme Jacob swindled his older brother out of this very important blessing. You can read all the details in Genesis chapter 27. Upon realizing what has happened Esau cries to his father, Isaac, “Bless me‑ me too… Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?’ Isaac answered, ‘I have made him lord over you, so what can I possibly do for you my son?’ Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too my father!’ Then Esau wept.” This is a sad story of rivalry between two brothers, but also of a father with limited resources. Human parents try as hard as they can but they are still only human. It is quite common for siblings to compete for the little bit of affection that must be shared by all. It may be a false perception of the child that there is not enough love to be shared, or it may be a reality that parents are not adequately generous with affection, either way this is a source of competition.

 

There are many more stories in the Old Testament with this theme of competition for the birth right. Old Testament themes are usually foreshadows of a greater reality. This brings me to a story told by Jesus, of two brothers and a father. The audience of Jesus is Jewish people who had been trying very hard to be worthy of their Father God’s blessing. Luke 15:11‑32, records the story; the younger son leaves home cutting off all relations with his family, a very disgraceful action in that culture. After failing miserably at his attempt to establish independence he returns home. To the disgust of the older brother the father welcomes the younger son with love and affection and a party. The older son is so envious and angry that he cannot contain himself. He will not accept his younger brother back and will not join in the party so the father goes out to him and pleads but the older son still refuses. The father says, “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.” Truly this generous father has enough love for both of his sons! But this older son may not perceive the father as generous. The older son continues in his anger and resentment.

When our God bids us to come, it is an invitation open to all. He is big enough and generous enough for all to have plenty. Look at some of the promises he has given us: Ephesians 1;3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ, for he chose us in him… to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us…”(1;7).    

Copyright; Mark Anderson


Paul; an imposter or what?

The calling of Paul as an apostle is for me personally a great story for these reasons; first it says to the church that anyone can be an apostle. Being an apostle is not through blood line heredity, passed on through other apostles, not even through laying on of hands, secondly; when Paul became an apostle through God directly it took away all the Papal authority of Peter. Paul’s apostleship is one of actually being/doing the apostolic work not a figurehead position. There may have been 12 Apostles, but there are many apostles! The calling of Paul in Acts 9 opens the door in the Christian church to all of us to serve the Lord by the power of His Holy Spirit.

This study is fairly long so it is in the Pages section >>>>>>